Arab, Jewish Israelis making friends online

JAFFA, Israel (Press Release)–Khouloud Ayouti has been working at the Peres Center for Peace for two and a half years in the Peace Education department. Since joining the team, Khouloud has been instrumental in maintaining and growing programs in the fields of technology and IT, while enhancing Peace Education through Technology programs.

She truly believes that there is tremendous potential to connect Jews and Arabs and Israeli and Palestinian youth through the integration of traditional and social peace-dialogue programs, including both face-to-face interactions and virtual ones.

Khouloud currently manages the “Bridges for Peace” technological project, which is held in conjunction with Google Israel and the ORT Educational Network. Through the Google+ Hangout technology, this unique project brings Jewish and Arab Israeli youth together, where they can overcome stereotypes, find common ground and promote coexistence.

“These programs connects Jewish and Arab teens through virtual media, creating the opportunity for cross-border relationships in a safe and secure environment that would otherwise be impossible,” says Khouloud.

According to Khouloud, “The project began as a pilot in December 2012 with 112 participants and was called ‘Hanging Out for Peace.’ This year, the name was upgraded to the ‘Bridges for Peace’ project, which is now comprised of 250 participants from 10 different high schools, all members of the ORT Educational Network. Once the students are chosen, circles of 4 Jewish students and 4 Arab students are formed, with one Hebrew-speaking facilitator and one Arabic-speaking facilitator leading each meeting based of an online curriculum specially developed for the project.”

Both groups of students are able to get to know one another in a safe environment through a series of virtual dialogue sessions using the Google + Hangout platform. The circles interact three times through Google+ Hangout before having a physical face-to-face meeting at the Peres Peace House. Following the in-person meeting, they have four additional online sessions, where they work together in their groups on the final project, which they aim to present at the final in-person physical meeting.
“Last year,” Khouloud describes, “The final project task was creating a film. However, this year the participants have the choice to create whatever they desire. For instance, the group from Acre has decided that they would like to tour and explore each other’s neighborhoods, in a method where they can be exposed to their peers’ hometown through their own eyes. Another circle will be creating a multicultural restaurant. Both Jewish and Arab participants of different ethnicities are creating a menu consisting of their own respective foods and recipes, and bringing their friends and families to the final meeting so they can all try new dishes.”

While the program is a great starting point in breaking down stereotypes, Khouloud stresses, “These official meetings are the first early steps in the process of peace. Yes, the program’s main goal is to allow the participants to meet each other in a safe environment, find similarities among them and remove misconceptions. Nevertheless, eight meetings have made a lot of progress and impact – It’s incredible!”
The Hangout+ platform generates a change in the participant’s lives and turns the idea of coexistence into something logical. “It breaks down barriers between young people, both physically and mentally. With Google+, Facebook and other forms of social media, the participants discover a real bond that is strengthened even after the program ends.”
The Bridges for Peace project is particularly important for Khouloud, since she was around the participants’ age when she began considering issues such as peace and coexistence herself. “All my life, I was suffering from an identity crisis, since my family has been living in Jaffa for hundreds of years. When I was 16, I realized that one of my biggest dreams was to work for an organization that promotes coexistence between Jews and Arabs; it’s my passion, and for that I am lucky to work at the Peres Center for Peace. I hope to continue contributing to our society and improving the lives of those around me.”

Thanks to passionate project managers like Khouloud, who work hard, and put lots of efforts in creating a sustainable peace, Jews and Arab youth can understand that coexistence is possible and real and lasting friendships can be formed.

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Preceding provided by the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa
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